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British Health Minister, Matt Hancock, Quits After Social Distancing Furor

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LONDON — Britain’s embattled health minister, Matt Hancock, announced Saturday he had resigned, a day after a tabloid newspaper published photos of him in a steamy embrace with one of his senior aides — an apparent violation of Britain’s social-distancing guidelines.

Mr. Hancock, who spearheaded Britain’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, was the latest member of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government to be accused of violating the strict rules imposed on the rest of the country.

“I understand the enormous sacrifices that everybody in this county has made — that you have made,” Mr. Hancock said in a video statement released on Saturday evening. “Those of us who make these rules have got to stick by them, and that’s why I’ve got to resign.”

Initially, Mr. Hancock refused to step down and had the backing of Mr. Johnson. But with Conservative Party members of Parliament demanding his resignation, and newspapers full of stories about double standards for the political elite, Mr. Hancock conceded his position had become untenable. He said he submitted his resignation in a visit to Mr. Johnson on Saturday.

It was a swift fall from grace for an ambitious, 42-year-old cabinet minister, who had become a familiar figure over the long months of the pandemic. Mr. Hancock was a fixture at Downing Street news conferences, often exhorting the public to abide by lockdowns and other restrictions to try to curb the spread of the virus.

In the end, Mr. Hancock’s failure to live by his own rules undid him. The Sun published images — and later video — from a surveillance camera in Mr. Hancock’s office that showed him embracing and kissing Gina Coladangelo, a friend from college days whom he had recruited as an adviser.

Mr. Hancock, who is married and has three children, said he was “very sorry” and had “let people down.” Downing Street said Mr. Johnson had accepted Mr. Hancock’s apology and considered the matter closed.

Even before he was engulfed by scandal, Mr. Hancock had become something of a lightning rod for controversy. Two weeks ago, a former chief adviser to Mr. Johnson, Dominic Cummings, posted text messages between him and the prime minister in which Mr. Johnson described Mr. Hancock as “hopeless,” adding a profanity.

Mr. Cummings pinned much of the blame for Britain’s chaotic handling of the pandemic on Mr. Hancock, saying he had failed to set up an effective test-and-trace program and allowed the spread of the virus by moving elderly people from hospitals to nursing homes. Mr. Hancock flatly denied the charges.

Mr. Cummings himself came under fire a year ago for driving 260 miles to visit his parents in the north of England while the country was under a lockdown. He, too, refused to step down, and lasted another six months before Mr. Johnson ousted him.


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